When Tyeastia Green went in for a job interview in Eden Prairie, company representatives told her she was a great candidate, but that she should change her hair. The information technology worker went home, took out her cornrows and straightened her hair. She went to her next interview and was hired.
By the time she met with her team leader for a coffee, her hair was back in cornrows. Her boss refused to shake her hand, she said, and suggested that she was better-suited for a lower paying job that was less visible.
Green, who is Black, said she found out her job offer was rescinded and a white man with less experience was hired instead. Gutted, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — and won.
That was in in 2012, but Green said the experience still haunts her.
"I went through a really hard time with self-worth, being told that everyone on the team didn't want me there," Green said Thursday.
People of color like Green will soon have more protections at work. The Minnesota Legislature on Thursday passed the CROWN Act, whose name stands for "Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair." It prohibits discrimination based on hair texture and type, and Gov. Tim Walz is expected to sign it soon. The bill added a definition of race to the Minnesota Human Rights Act that includes associated hair styles such as braids, twists and locs.
"The CROWN Act is really important. I don't want any other person of color to go through what I went through," Green said.
Fourteen other states have passed similar laws. A federal bill passed the U.S. House in 2022, led by Black women lawmakers including Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., but failed in the Senate.
The state bill, led by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, provides clarity to employers and grounds for the Minnesota Department of Human Rights to investigate hair-based discrimination.
"We want to create a clear and great work environment" so people can thrive, Champion said, "without feeling like they're ostracized if they decide to wear their natural hair and not use a perm or not use a straightening comb."
It is important to have welcoming work and school environments for Minnesotans, especially as the makeup of the state and country changes, he said. The law does not apply to unnatural colors such as pink or blue hair, for example, or supersede military or safety laws, Champion said.
Sen. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, who is one of three Black women in the Senate, told the chamber Thursday about her first performance review in which she was praised, but told to do something about her unprofessional hair. Years later, that experience still affects how she wears her hair, she said.
Some Senate Republicans wanted to include protection for beards in the law. Sen. Steve Drazkowski, R-Winona, raised potential discrimination against cultures like the Amish and those represented on the reality TV show "Duck Dynasty."
The bill aims to address discrimination commonly reported in schools and workplaces, Champion said. Beards can be considered for addition in the future, he added.
Banning hair discrimination is a step toward further acceptance for Black and brown hair, said Melissa Taylor, who owns the Beauty Lounge in Minneapolis.
Before attending cosmetology school, Taylor worked in the corporate world and saw how the pressure to forgo certain styles weighed on women of color, she said. She recalled a coworker pausing a meeting to comment on Taylor's hairstyle.
"I think since the natural hair movement started, people are trying to accept themselves and their hair the way that it grows out of their head," Taylor said. "To know that it's now illegal to discriminate based on that, I think will help people just begin to accept themselves even more."
The multicultural salon serves clients of all hair types and is a place where people can feel a sense of belonging, she said. Finding a salon is one of the first things a woman does when moving to a new city, which is key in corporate efforts to recruit more people of color to the state, Taylor said.
The movement toward natural hair acceptance has been a relief for Green over the years as she's moved through the work world with her natural hair, now in locs.
"People are paying attention and starting to recognize that this really happens to people, where they are forced to change their hair in order to be what is considered professional ... You don't have to do that anymore," Green said.